This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Last updated at 16:30 BST, Friday, 01 June 2012

It's a joke


Neil is struggling with his mobile phone and says that it's a joke. Helen is a bit puzzled as he is not laughing at all. What does Neil mean? Is there anything funny about his mobile?

a man making a phone call

The script for this programme

Helen: Hello and welcome to The English We Speak from BBC Learning English, I'm Helen. With me today is quite a frustrated-looking Neil. Neil, what are you doing to that mobile phone?

Neil: Argh, I can't get it to make a phone call. It does everything else: it takes photos, it connects to the internet, it even irons my shirts but it won't make a call!

Helen: Your mobile phone irons your shirts?

Neil: No, not really, but honestly it does everything apart from the one thing I want it to do – make a phone call. It's a joke!

Helen: A joke? But you're not laughing. It can't be a very funny joke.

Neil: Well if you say something is a joke in English it can also mean that it's not very good or not worthy of respect.

Helen: Yes, 'joke' has a second meaning.


  • The investigation into police corruption was a complete joke. Everyone knows the officers were taking money but they were let off.
  • The weather forecast was a total joke. It said it would be warm and sunny but it's freezing and raining.

Helen: As you heard there in the example, the person described an investigation into police corruption as a joke. This doesn't mean it was funny. It means it wasn't serious. Also the weather forecast was so bad it was described as a joke.

Neil: Notice that you can add words before 'joke' to make the meaning even stronger. It's a complete joke.

Helen: A complete joke.

Neil: It's a total joke.

Helen: A total joke.

Neil: It's an absolute joke.

Helen: Anyway Neil, why don't you just read the instructions for your new mobile phone? Then you'll probably be able to work out how to make a call.

Neil: I looked at the instructions but they're an absolute joke.

Helen: Oh really?

Neil: Well for a start they are in about 17 languages apart from English.

Helen: What a joke!

Neil: Yeah I know.

Helen: Well we've heard lots of jokes in today's programme but there hasn't been much laughing.

Neil: Argh, what a useless piece of …

Helen: Let's hope Neil finally works out how to use his phone.

Neil: Argh, this is beyond a joke, it really is…

Helen: Join us again for The English We Speak.

Neil: Argh, mobiles…


Latest programmes: